Updated update: I’m no longer with IBM, and have taken a job in Settle with AWS.
Hello dear readers,
Just a quick note here to mention my new FT gig; I’m now working as a Visualization Expert at IBM’s Center for Advanced Visualization. Part of my role involves continuing to speak at conferences and events as I have been, and various other writing projects. Additionally, I’ll be working on a book for IBM (details TBD), writing some visualization white papers, blog posts, and other materials related to IBM’s visualization projects, and working with the fantastic teams who are devloping IBM’s public visualization tool Many Eyes and their new (unreleased) visualization engine RAVE.
I’m delighted by this new role. As I’ve been ramping up at IBM I haven’t been publishing as much externally, but will be posting links to my writing and presentations here and on twitter (@noahi) as they become available.
UPDATE: Yes, I’m staying in Seattle.
I’m thrilled to announce my latest book, Designing Data Visualizations.
The goal of this book is to teach you the process of designing a visualization, presenting the important considerations, and informing the choices that you make. It’s tool-agnostic, and is entirely applicable to visualizations with high and low volumes of data, and to both quantitative and qualitative visualizations.
The origins of my thinking on this topic lie in the work I did on my master’s thesis. This book benefits from an additional five years of experience and research on my part, as well as Julie’s vital insight, knowledge, and contributions.
For this book, we (the authors) are recommending the electronic version over the print version, as that will allow you easy access to updates and revisions as we add more examples and such. Also, the print edition will sadly be only in grayscale, whereas the electronic version will be full-color.
Update: looks like we’ll be providing a full-color download of the images so that people who buy the print edition don’t miss anything.
We’re very excited about this book. We hope you will be too.
I’ll be speaking at Strata NY next week. My main talk is Designing Data Visualizations, on Friday the 23rd at 11:30am.
On Friday at 1pm I’ll be at the O’Reilly booth, signing copies of Beautiful Visualization. Not sure if Designing Data Visualizations will be available in print by then, but if it is, I’ll be signing those too. (You probably want the electronic version of DDV anyway.)
Hope to see you there!
Chapter One: On Beauty, by Noah Iliinsky
This chapter is an examination of what we mean by beauty in the context of visualization, why it’s a worthy goal to pursue, and how to get there. We’ll start with a discussion of the elements of beauty, look at some examples and counterexamples, and then focus on the critical steps to realize a beautiful visualization.
[I use the words visualization and visual interchangeably in this chapter, to refer to all types of structured representation of information. This encompasses graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, storyboards, and less formally structured illustrations.]
What is Beauty?
What do we mean when we say a visual is beautiful? Is it an aesthetic judgment, in the traditional sense of the word? It can be, but when we’re discussing visuals in this context, beauty can be considered to have four key elements, of which aesthetic judgment is only one. For a visual to qualify as beautiful, it must be aesthetically pleasing, yes, but it must also be novel, informative, and efficient.
For a visual to truly be beautiful, it must go beyond merely being a conduit for information and offer some novelty: a fresh look at the data or a format that gives readers a spark of excitement and results in a new level of understanding. Well-understood formats (e.g., scatterplots) may be accessible and effective, but for the most part they no longer have the ability to surprise or delight us. Most often, designs that delight us do so not because they were designed to be novel, but because they were designed to be effective; their novelty is a byproduct of effectively revealing some new insight about the world. keep reading…
In a New York Times article entitled Rivals to the iPad Say This Is the Year, makers of would-be iPad competitors reveal their strategy. Tablet manufacturers “who have discussed their plans say they will both offer specific features that the iPad is lacking, and undercut their competitors on price.” (Emphasis mine.)
Reading this gave me a flashback to almost five years ago, when Samsung released an mp3 player that they hoped would compete with the iPod. It was a good product, and it was doomed to fail. David Pogue nailed it:
The iPod’s competitors have wasted years of opportunity by assuming that they can beat the iPod on features and price alone. They’re wrong.
In fact, at least six factors make the iPod such a hit: cool-looking hardware; a fun-to-use, variable-speed scroll wheel; an ultrasimple software menu; effortless song synchronization with Mac or Windows; seamless, rock-solid integration with an online music store (iTunes); and a universe of accessories. Mess up any aspect of the formula, and your iPod killer is doomed to market-share crumbs.
I predict that history will largely repeat itself. Apple doesn’t win because they provide more features, they win because they provide a more intentional design that results in a better experience. Many other tablets will be sold and loved (my friends love their Samsung Galaxy Tabs), but no device will present a credible threat to the iPad’s market dominance until it offers a similarly intentional, compelling, and coherent experience.
I was recently asked some questions about the Beautiful Visualization (O’Reilly 2010) and my role as the technical editor and chapter contributor.
How did you end up working on Beautiful Visualization?
I was given the opportunity to work on the book because of my previous research and master’s thesis on methods of creating quality information visualizations.
Why is this book especially important now?
This is a particularly exciting time to be working with information visualization.
Visualization has become popular over the last few years. There have been some very good visualizations making it into the media and pop culture recently, and they have reached millions of people. Of note, the 2008 elections and current World Cup tournament have inspired dozens of visualizations that have received a lot of attention. Good visualizations are fun, educational, and engaging. People enjoy them, and some publications such as the New York Times and GOOD magazine are becoming known for their (generally high quality) work with information visualizations.
Beautiful Visualization, published by O’Reilly Media, is their deal of the day today. Get the ebook version for just $9.99 with the discount code DDVSZ.
The print edition should be available by the end of June.